TRINITY XIII – Respice, Domine

Introit: (Ps 74) Look, O Lord, upon thy covenant, and forsake not the congregation of the poor for ever: arise, O Lord, maintain thine own cause; and be not unmindful of the voices of them that seek thee.  Ps. O God, wherefore art thou absent from us so long: why is thy wrath so hot against the sheep of thy pasture?  Glory be … Look, O Lord …

Collect: Almighty and merciful God, of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful people do unto thee true and laudable service: grant, we beseech thee, that we may so faithfully serve thee in this life, that we fail not finally to attain thy heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

OT Lesson: And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the Lord your God. After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. Ye shall do my judgements, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgements: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord.  (Leviticus 18.1-5)

Gradual: (Ps 74) Look upon thy covenant, O Lord, and forget not the congregation of the poor for ever.  V. Arise, O Lord, maintain thine own cause: remember the rebuke that thy servants have.

Epistle: Brethren: To Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.  (Galatians 3.16-22)

Alleluia. For the Lord is a great God: and a great King over all the earth. Alleluia.

The Holy Gospel: At that time: Jesus said unto his disciples: Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: for I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.  (St Luke 10.23-37)


A Sermon by Fr. David Curry

Christ Church, Windsor, Nova Scotia, AD 2004

“He had compassion on him”

Others passed by.  We are apt to condemn their indifference, their lack of care and concern for the wounded and poor in our midst.  And yet, how easily all of us overlook the poor.  We step over them, we ignore them, and we even communicate our contempt and unease that they should have the audacity to be there in our midst at all.  In a profound way, we are signaling our desire that things should be other than what they are.  We don’t want the poor to be in our midst.  We don’t want the poor to be at all.  That can sound good or it can sound quite sinister.  Just consider.  Do we want them just to be out of our sight?  Out of sight, out of mind?  And if so, then out of care, outside and without care?  We are those who pass by.  

Do we want the poor not to be poor or not to be for their sake or for ours?  What infects every agency of aid to the poor is just that ambiguity.  Who are we doing what for whom?  For whose real interest?  Theirs or ours?  And yet, as Jesus says, “the poor you have with you always.”  Always, always in the course of our lives we encounter the wounded and the broken in our midst.  And guess what?  What we encounter is simply ourselves.  In the poor, really, we confront but an aspect of ourselves.  After all, it could be any one of us.  There go I but for the grace of God.

But is the parable of the Good Samaritan, so familiar, so common, simply about the poor?  No.  It presents to us a wonderful and compelling picture of the human condition which God in the richness of his grace has addressed.  Here is a picture of the poverty of our humanity, we might say.  It is a parable and so teaches something far deeper than what appears on the surface.  That is the challenge of the Scriptures after all, the challenge to think metaphorically or, even better, analogically.  It is especially a challenge in a rather literal-minded age, a problem that is by no means restricted to so-called fundamentalists.  No.  It is shared in by many who refuse, in one way or another, the power of story and deny the teaching in the story.

This story is told specifically as an illustration of the meaning of the exchange between Jesus and “a certain lawyer.”  Ultimately, the exchange is about grace, the grace of Christ which is the true meaning of the law.  But that true meaning has to be drawn out of us.  “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” the lawyer asks, only to find out that it has an inescapable connection to the second question which Jesus elicits from him, “who is my neighbour?”; in short, how he deals with his neighbour invariably reflects upon his relation to God.  It is a wonderful point, really, to see the necessary and inescapable relation between morality and doctrine, between the love of God and the love of man, between the law and its fulfillment in Christ alone.  The point is made ever so powerfully in the parable.  

There is a quality of strange otherness about such stories that resists being reduced to simple calls to action and moral concern.  “Go and do thou likewise” seems so simple and direct, so do-able and so obvious.  And it is, but at the same time, how we can simply ‘go and do likewise’ depends altogether on the grace of Christ in us for it is that grace alone that enables our care for one another.  The grace of Christ is the operative principle in all works of mercy.  The care signaled through the images of the parable speaks about far more, though not less, than what belongs to merely helping the stranger stranded on the roadside.  

God is not on the horizon but in the foreground.  Augustine is the great teacher who has grasped the larger dimensions of this story signaled precisely in its details.  “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.”  Mere place names meant to lend an element of verisimilitude to the story?  Does it matter that it is Jerusalem and Jericho?  Could it just as easily have been Baghdad and Tehran, or Halifax and Windsor?  It is a parable and as such is telling a story that has great truth in it but is not about some actual event captured in the police reports or the Sunday newspapers.  As such we have to consider the possible significance of these elements in the story.  And, of course, there is nothing adventitious or accidental about either Jerusalem or Jericho.  In fact, those two places can be seen to capture something of the entire pageant of the Old Testament and more prophetically, and, perhaps, more provocatively, something of a theological view of the human condition.  The parable illustrates the grand themes of the Fall, Redemption and the Church.

Jerusalem symbolizes the heavenly city, the city of God, while Jericho symbolizes the earthly city, the city of Man.  The two are seen in stark opposition to one another, a point which is further emphasized in the conflict between “the flesh and the spirit” in the Epistle for today.   In the conquest of the Promised Land, Jericho was the great city in Israel’s way and was ultimately toppled by a liturgy, of all things—a service of prayers and praises acknowledging the sovereignty of God against all forms of human presumption.  Such is the story of “Joshua at the battle of Jericho” when “the walls came a tumblin’ down.”  But, of course, the Israelites also got greedy and took what they had been commanded not to take for themselves of the spoils of war.  More trouble! Is there a pattern here?!

In the parable, a “certain man [is going] down from Jerusalem to Jericho.”  This reminds us of the story of the Fall, of man’s falling away from God in Paradise and turning towards the ground, to the earth, in alienation from God, the world and his fellow-man.  We are going in the wrong direction! The consequences are immediate.  He “fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him … leaving him half dead.”  “A certain man” is every one of us.

Sin robs us of the riches of God in creation, leaving us naked.  “Who told thee that thou wast naked?” God asks the Adam – mankind – in the Garden of Creation after they had disobeyed God’s only commandment and found themselves in opposition to God and to all the good things which God had provided for them; in effect, calling not good what God had emphatically called good.  If God gives you everything that you need for life and if he also gives you a commandment, then to reject the latter is to deny the truth of the former.  In the action of disobedience we discovered contradiction.  Paradoxically, that is also the discovery of reason.  There is equally a fall upward, we might say, for “their eyes were opened, knowing both good and evil.”  That, too, is part and parcel of the human reality but it is discovered negatively through the hard way of experience, the experience of alienation, hardship, suffering and death.  We find ourselves, like Adam and Eve in the ancient Genesis story, both naked, wounded and half-dead, because we have robbed ourselves of God’s truth.  It is the human condition.  What can be done about it and by whom?  

Priest and Levite pass-by.  Are they going in the same direction or the other way?  Towards Jerusalem and away from Jericho?  The parable is unclear about the direction of their journeying but abundantly clear about what they represent and what they do.  They are the representatives of the Law especially in the expression of its ritual purity.  They both see the wounded man and they both pass by.  It would be easy to regard this as simply the failure of the religion of Judaism through hypocrisy and indifference to address the human condition.  And certainly that must be there.  There is an implied criticism of the Jewish religion in Jesus’ telling this story, a judgment on Israel, if you will.  But there is something more.  Priest and Levite see the wounded man.  There is an awareness of the wounded, broken state of our humanity.  But can the Law fix it or can the Law, even in the piety of intense ritual observance, only see it, that is to say, recognize the situation we are in but unable to fix of ourselves?  

The Christian interpretation of this parable has to recognize the limitations of the Old Covenant, namely, that it can only point out the problem which it cannot fix.  What can be done?  By whom?  “A certain Samaritan as he journeyed, came where he was.”  Who is this?  Well, from the standpoint of the Jewish community, the Samaritans are the ultimate outsiders, despised as apostate Jews because of a difference of opinion about the place of the giving of the Law and about the centrality of Jerusalem for the true worship of Israel.  Is Jesus saying that the Samaritans are right and the Jews are wrong about the Old Covenant and about Jerusalem?  

No.  He is suggesting here and elsewhere in a number of other quite significant passages that sometimes our differences and divisions can hide from view the more essential things which unite us.  In the case of the Samaritans, Jesus often uses them as examples of godly action in the face of particular religious rules that have been given a wholly human interpretation to the detriment of the spirit of the Law.  It is the openness of the Samaritans to the spirit of the Law that Jesus most seems to celebrate and, as the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well of Samaria makes clear, for example, what Jesus has to say transcends the differences between Jew and Samaritan.  “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews, but the hour cometh and now is when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4.  22-23).

The Samaritan not only “saw him” but “had compassion on him” and acted on that compassion “[to go] to him, [binding] up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, set[ting] him on his own beast, [bringing] him to an inn, [taking] care of him” even to the point of making future provision for his care.  He is the outsider who came near to him.  Who is the ultimate other who has come near to us?  Jesus, the Son of God.  God has become neighbour to us in Jesus, the Incarnate Lord, God made man, “the Word made flesh.”   

We have come to call this parable “The Good Samaritan” and the term has become synonymous with works of care and compassion towards others, and rightly so.  But nowhere in the story is the “certain Samaritan” called the ‘good’ Samaritan.  It belongs to the deeper understanding of the parable to attach that adjective and, in so doing, to acknowledge that the action here is more than merely descriptive; it is symbolic.  The Good Samaritan is, ultimately, Jesus and the care that he gives describes the very life of the Church, the Church as the Body of Christ, the Church as the Inn, where we learn the compassion of God out of which we, too, are called to act, where our wounded and broken selves find healing and mercy in the outpouring of oil and wine and in the giving of the two pence, suggestive of the sacraments of baptism and eucharist, where we are taken care of until “I come again.”  Only in him, the parable so strongly suggests, can we “go and do likewise,” because only in him are the love of God and the love of neighbour united.

“They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts,” and only so can we “walk in the Spirit,” as St.  Paul tells us in his Letter to the Galatians, his manifesto of Christian freedom.  The action of the Good Samaritan is sacrifice, the sacrifice of ourselves and our self-interests for the good of others out of the goodness and the love of God, the great Other who has become neighbour to us.  It means to share in the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the face of our indifference, our hatred and animosity.  Only so shall we serve him faithfully in this life that we fail not finally to attain his heavenly promises.  “He has compassion on us.”  In Christ “Go and do thou likewise.”

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Collect: O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people which call upon thee: and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.

—Father Kevin+